Expect spike in cross-border crimes, expert warns after freeze on Sabah barter trade

The ban on barter trading in Sabah may not effectively stop foreign intrusions into the state, a Universiti Malaysia Sabah lecturer said. File picture shows the Lahad Datu water village squatter colony. ― Picture courtesy of EsscomThe ban on barter trading in Sabah may not effectively stop foreign intrusions into the state, a Universiti Malaysia Sabah lecturer said. File picture shows the Lahad Datu water village squatter colony. ― Picture courtesy of EsscomKOTA KINABALU, April 15 — The ban on barter trading in Sabah may not effectively stop foreign intrusions into the state and could instead give rise to illegal trading and smuggling activities, as well as cross-border kidnapping, an expert has warned.

Universiti Malaysia Sabah humanities senior lecturer Wan Shawaluddin Wan Hassan said although the ban would temporarily cripple terror networks in the region, it would not entirely stop the intruders from seeking out other means to carry out their activities.

“Putting a stop to their lifeline will put them into survival mode. Smuggling activities may go down for a while but eventually they will find loopholes and it will become more rampant,” he said, adding that kidnap-for-ransom groups were usually linked to other cross-border crimes like weapons, fuel and human smuggling.

“Kidnapping for ransom is a lucrative business and will become a more prominent option. Those in the loose network will also become more tempted and resort to kidnapping, or at least being informers, once their livelihood is taken away,” said Wan, who specialises in studying border migrants in the state.

The move to cease the two century-old barter trade was the Sabah government’s reaction to the latest kidnapping of four Malaysian sailors off Pulau Ligitan by armed gunmen believed to be from the Abu Sayyaf network.

Chief Minister Datuk Seri Musa Aman said the move was to tighten security and send a signal to southern Philippines to help solve the problem of kidnappers who continue to terrorise the state.

Sandakan MP Stephen Wong said banning trade between Sabah and neighbouring Philippines and Indonesia would only deprive local businesses of the over RM1.3 billion worth of trade annually.

“Most barter traders are genuine businessmen who do it for a living. Can anyone guarantee that banning the barter trade will mean no more kidnapping?” he asked.

The lawmaker pointed out that the frequent security breaches on Sabah’s coastline could also be attributed to the high number of illegal immigrants in the state who serve as informers to terror groups.

Wan agreed that the barter trade business may not be the true cause of the frequent intrusions on Sabah’s borders by terrorist groups.

“From previous reports, it would seem like the Abu Sayyaf’s network includes those within the army and police in Philippines.

“The Philippine government will be unable to take them down even if they wanted to,” he pointed out, referring to the infamous terrorist group operating out of southern Philippines.

He also said that the ban on barter trade would not have a large enough impact as it affects mostly traders in Tawi Tawi province and a few in Zamboanga, both in southern Philippines.

“The ban on barter trade alone is not enough pressure on the Philippines. Perhaps more international pressure will compel them to come down hard on the Abu Sayyaf group,” he said.

Instead of punishing traders, Wan suggested a more holistic look at Sabah’s security problems.

He said community involvement was necessary to cripple such terror networks.

“Get the people on the ground as the eyes and ears of the security forces.

“Strengthening our intelligence will be crucial and part of this involves sharing information between the various units within Esscom,” said Wan.

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